women in mining

The first female mining engineer to be appointed to the AECI Mining Group Executive Committee, Meagan van den Berg, continues to break boundaries in a male-dominated industry.

Meagan van den Berg has been appointed as the AECI Mining’s executive, responsible for the company’s Southern African business portfolio, which includes South Africa and the neighbouring countries – Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana and Mozambique.

Her core function in this role is to develop and execute regional strategies in line with group’s goals to foster sustainability and growth within these specific markets.

The role, explains van den Berg, provides the link between front-end teams and back office support functions to drive the greater AECI Mining goals, policies and strategic intent within these regions. “A critical function of the role is to unlock and grow value for our employees, shareholders and customers by delivering quality products and services to the mining industry,” she says.

A dedicated individual with the discipline to become better at everything she does, van den Berg’s appointment coincides with South Africa’s celebration of women’s month. Although a mining engineer by formal qualification, a final year project sparked her interest in drill and blast and the pursuit of a career within the explosives industry.

She has over the year’s broken boundaries with several leadership roles, demonstrating that there are no limits to what women can accomplish in mining-related sectors, where the advancement of women has traditionally been limited.  

Born and bred in the Eastern Cape, van den Berg matriculated from Port Rex Technical High School in 2003. She was one of the few students awarded a bursary by the De Beers Group to study for a Bsc in Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand and went on to graduate in 2008.

She started her working career with Detnet in 2009, a joint venture between AECI Mining and Dyno Nobel that specialises in the development and manufacture of electronic blasting systems as a conversions engineer. The purpose of this role was to provide product support on bench at operations, converting from NONEL to EDD (Electronic Delay Detonator) blasting systems.

In 2011, she completed the AEL Explosive Engineer program, before being appointed to the role of mining engineer, AEL Mining Optimisation. In this role, she provided technical consultation and support to the AEL business globally. “The role afforded me the opportunity to travel both locally and abroad to gain experience across multiple mining applications,” says van den Berg.

In 2013, she was appointed AECI Mining Explosives’ regional manager for Underground Mining, a role that saw her switch from technical to business management, overseeing the underground segment in the North West.

To sharpen her management skills, van den Berg graduated with an MBA from the Gordon Institute of Business Science in 2014.

In 2017, she was appointed divisional executive for both underground and surface operations within South Africa, a role she held until her recent appointment as Chairperson AECI Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, while serving as divisional executive in South Africa.

“A highlight of my career is that I was the first female mining engineer and regional manager in the company, a feat I hope encouraged other ladies within the organisation to be ambitious and apply for positions historically occupied exclusively by our male counterparts,” she says.

Commenting on how women can break barriers in historically male dominated spheres, van den Berg says one needs to equip themselves with a solid foundation through education and be willing to do the hard yards by gaining experience, moving through various positions and deployments within an organisation.

She also believes that self-confidence, believing in your own capabilities, is of utmost significance. Rightly so, if you are confident, people believe you – confidence is attractive, brings success, helps to connect well with others and you generally feel happier.

“One should also have a belief in equality – gender does not make you any more or less competent, deserving or able to fulfil a given role,” she says.

Respect for the industry, its legacy and the people in it is also essential, she says. “It also takes a touch of bravery, exposing yourself to potential scepticism, which often comes with being in a minority,” she says, adding that “remain true to yourself and the values and beliefs for which you stand.”

Van den Berg hopes to use her position to inspire other women to embark on a career in engineering, to be a role model through actions and to contribute to achieving equality within the workplace.

“The senior leadership of an organisation has the opportunity and the very important responsibility to help shape corporate policies and practices that address complex issues around gender disparity in the workplace.

“I intend on using my own experience and learning to help foster these discussions and seek ways in which to break down some of the barriers which make it difficult for women to participate in the industry,” she says.  

True equality, she says, is when men and women of any race or culture can be considered for roles that were previously earmarked for a certain group of people.

“I hope to do my bit in making this industry attractive and accessible to men and women alike,” concludes van den Berg.